Celtics

Toronto's good. The addition of (a healthy) Kawhi Leonard? Even better

Toronto's good. The addition of (a healthy) Kawhi Leonard? Even better

TORONTO – Only 15 seconds into Friday’s game between Boston and Toronto, Kawhi Leonard and those enormously large hands of his had a steal.

By halftime, he was trending towards a double-double with nine points and five rebounds, a reminder to us all why he’s widely considered the best two-way player in the NBA.

And the performance he put on against the Boston Celtics only confirmed his status as he led the Raptors to a 113-101 victory over the Celtics (1-1) which was Toronto's seventh straight home win over Boston, and 11th in their last 12 meetings.

Leonard finished with a game-high 31 points and 10 rebounds for his second double-double in as many games this season with Toronto (2-0).

“Just went out and tried to lead by example,” Leonard said. “Coach (Nick) Nurse and Kyle (Lowry) did a great job of calling some plays and giving me the ball when in rhythm, and (I) made shots.”

Said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens: “He is a great player, and he is a great two-way player. He certainly looks really good.”

Boston’s Kyrie Irving also had high praise for the two-time All-Star.

“He’s just a special talent,” said Irving who led the Celtics with 21 points.

Which is why so much of the Toronto offense went through Leonard who forced Boston to try and double-team him at times which had mixed results.

Marcus Morris, one of several Celtics tasked with defending Leonard, is quick to acknowledge how talented a player Leonard is.

But he also recognizes a lot of Toronto’s offense flowed through him, making it all the more likely for him to put up big, eye-popping numbers.

“That’s the biggest thing; he’s getting the ball every other play,” said Morris, referring to Leonard’s 10-for-25 shooting night which was 11 shot attempts more than the nearest teammate. “He’s a good player, been a good player; not taking nothing away from him. But he getting the ball every play? You gonna get 30. That’s how I feel.”

But what Leonard did was more than just score a bunch of points.

He dissected the Celtics defense in every way imaginable, whether it was beating someone off the dribble for a score, drawing a foul, or draining a 3-pointer.

Leonard had almost as many free throw attempts (nine) as the entire Celtics team (10), in large part because of the mismatches the Raptors were able to create for him via pick-and-roll switches or just initiating the offense quickly when he was being guarded by a Boston player who was at a clear disadvantage.

“Anytime he goes through you to try and score I don’t think you are doing anything wrong coverage-wise,” Stevens said. “I think when he gets to the rim uncontested or you are fouling him, then I think we have to do a little bit better. He’s going to create some of that stuff.”

And when he does, it makes an already tough Toronto team all that more difficult to beat.

His arrival has not only bolstered the Raptors roster, but also meant four-time All-Star Kyle Lowry has to adjust to having a different running mate.

“The transition has been fine; I’m a true professional,” Lowry told NBC Sports Boston. “At the end of the day, I have two good teammates coming in (Leonard and Danny Green). They’ve got championships. With that kind of pedigree coming in, you accept it … they got what we want. It’s been a smooth transition.”

It certainly looked like it, particularly down the stretch when Toronto closed out the game with a 12-2 run.

“Just some miscommunication on our end as well as some effort plays, including myself,” Irving said. “Just some mistakes down the stretch, that’s all. Turnovers here and there, they got up, Kyle (Lowry) hit a big three and then a step-back. Kawhi (Leonard) had a wide open shot. We had some good looks down the stretch too; just couldn’t capitalize. Just need to be better down the stretch.”

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How well does 21-year-old Jayson Tatum compare to 21-year-old Michael Jordan?

How well does 21-year-old Jayson Tatum compare to 21-year-old Michael Jordan?

We know that Jayson Tatum is on the path to NBA stardom. But is he on a similar pace to one of the greatest players ever to play the game, Michael Jordan?

You be the judge.

Boston Sports Info (@BostonSportsInf) checked out the statistical comparison between Jayson Tatum and Michael Jordan during their 21-year-old seasons. And when looking at the numbers on a per 36-minute basis, they were relatively close in most major categories.

In addition to the numbers pictured, Tatum averaged 3.1 assists, 1.5 steals, and 0.9 blocks per 36 as a 21-year-old. Meanwhile, Jordan got 5.5 assists, 2.2 steals, and 0.8 blocks per 36.

So, Jordan edged Tatum in most categories, save for Tatum's rebounding advantage and his ever-so-slight blocks advantage. Of course, it's worth noting that Jordan entered the league as a 21-year-old rookie, so he had no NBA experience while he put up these excellent numbers. Tatum had 143 games of regular-season experience and 19 games of playoff experience before his 21st birthday.

Regardless, the point is that Tatum is still developing very well and the fact that his numbers can even be comparable to one of the NBA's all-time greats is an excellent sign. He should continue to progress and should soon be one of the top players in the NBA if he continues on his current trajectory.

Tatum may not reach Jordan level. Few ever do. But the stats indicate that he's on the right track very early on in his career.

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Celtics Talk Podcast: Danny Ainge on why 63-point game was Michael Jordan's coming out party

Celtics Talk Podcast: Danny Ainge on why 63-point game was Michael Jordan's coming out party

Everybody knew that Michael Jordan was an excellent NBA player very early on in his career.

But was his 63-point game against the Boston Celtics in the first round of the 1986 NBA Playoffs his coming out party? Current Celtics GM Danny Ainge seems to think so.

On the latest episode of the Celtics Talk Podcast, Ainge discussed Jordan's 63-point playoff outburst from that series with Brian Scalabrine.

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In the interview, Ainge referred to the game as the moment that many realized that Jordan was "a really, really special player" even though everyone already knew that he was talented.

I think this was a coming out party, a little bit maybe like what Jayson Tatum had after the All-Star Game this year, this long stretch [of good play]. I think this 63-point game, 49 back-to-back games, was a coming out party for Michael as 'Wow, this guy is a really, really special player.' But we knew going in that he was extremely talented.

Ainge would certainly know. He was tasked with helping to guard Jordan late in the game, especially in the fourth quarter and overtime despite having five fouls. Ainge actually held up well doing that, but Jordan still beat him on occasion with his quickness to the hoop and insane scoring touch.

That said, it's also notable that Ainge is comparing Jordan's coming out party to that of Tatum. The third-year Celtic had emerged as a big-time scorer and one of the NBA's best all-around young players after the All-Star Game before the NBA shut down amid coronavirus concerns.

Certainly, Ainge isn't comparing Tatum to Jordan as a player. But the fact that he mentioned the duo in the same breath is still encouraging, and it should signify that Ainge continues to have confidence as the 22-year-old Tatum looks to continue to improve heading into the final year of his rookie contract in 2020-21.

To hear more from Ainge and Scal about the 1986 Celtics-Bulls series and Ainge's relationship with Michael Jordan, check out this week's episode of the Celtics Talk Podcast, available on the NBC Sports Boston Podcast Network and YouTube.